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Oral Cancer

Oral Cancer

Oral or mouth cancer is an abnormal growth that can occur in any part of the mouth. With around 4,000 new cases reported each year, it represents about 1% of all cancers in the UK and the numbers are increasing.

Mouth cancer is curable, but small cancers are more easily treatable. It is important that the condition is diagnosed and treated early – usually by radiotherapy or surgery. Mouth reconstruction may also be needed if cancer is extensive. If severe, oral cancer can spread and prove fatal.

The dental examination plays an important role in early detection. The British Dental Association has calculated that if cancers are detected early the chance of surviving for five years or more is around 80%, compared with the average of 50%

Who is affected?

Historically, oral cancer usually affected older men but the typical profile is widening now and increasingly younger people and women are seen with the condition. The most common site is the side of the tongue, but cancers can occur anywhere in the mouth – typically on or under the tongue, the floor or roof of the mouth, behind the teeth, on the gums or inside the cheek.

What are the causes?

Most cases of mouth cancer are linked to tobacco and alcohol. Cigarette, cigar or pipe smoking; chewing tobacco, paan, gutkha or betel quid and the excessive use of alcohol are the main risk factors. Other causes include persistent Candida (yeast) infections of the mouth, viruses, immune deficiency disease, chronic irritation of the mouth (e.g. dentures that do not fit or broken, rough edges of teeth), sunlight or radiation, dietary deficiencies or anaemia.

The symptoms – be aware

  • Reddish or whitish pre-cancerous patches or a mouth ulcer that does not clear up as expected.
  • A sore or mouth ulcer that refuses to heal within 3 weeks or bleeds easily.
  • A lump or softening in the soft tissues of the mouth.
  • The above changes are often painless but pain may be a symptom for some patients.
  • Most of the above indicators will not be cancer, but your dentist will assess whether the problem warrants further investigation by another specialist.

You Can Help – Your Responsibilities

  • Do not use tobacco at all and drink alcohol only moderately
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight and always use an appropriate sunscreen on your skin and lips
  • Regular dental check ups will help identify any problems at an early stage.
  • Maintain a healthy diet, including at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day

What your dentist can offer

  • Tissue changes in the mouth – that might signal the onset of cancer – can often be seen and felt by your dentist. Your dentist will examine your whole mouth, looking at your lips, cheeks, tongue, the roof of your mouth and your throat. It may require further monitoring or to be seen by another specialist
  • Treatment will depend on your general health, where the cancer is located, the size and whether it has spread
  • Special mouth rinses are available which may reveal signs of cancer normally invisible to the eye
  • The government is keen to encourage regular screening for oral cancer for those at risk


  • Oral Cancer Check Oral or mouth cancer is an abnormal growth that can occur in any part of the mouth.
  • Contact Us If you need advice on any matters please call us on 01932-220111 and our friendly staff will be pleased to help.